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Metrics to show what works and what deserves to be grown

There are many metrics for judging whether innovations are working – at various stages of development. Metrics can play a decisive role in determining whether innovations are scaled up, or deserve to be. Over several decades a great deal of work has gone into the design of measures of social value. A recent survey found 150 different metrics in use in the non-profit sector. However, relatively few of these are actually used to make decisions.

One reason why this field has failed to make progress is that there is often confusion between three different tasks for metrics: to provide funders or investors with data on impact; to provide a tool for organisations to manage their own choices internally; to better understand long-term processes of social change and impact. Although these purposes overlap, any one metric cannot do all three of these tasks simultaneously, and there are direct conflicts of interest between the players involved in each of these. Here we list a few of the methods currently in use, most of which fall into the first category, or providing a means for providers of money to judge between alternatives.